Petition against Southen Expansion – is it the best way to get FFA’s attention?

Jeff Williamson Roar Pro

By , Jeff Williamson is a Roar Pro

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17 Have your say

    One of the things I like about being part of The Roar is the discussion about different issues. It’s a healthy thing.

    I do not know if anyone from FFA ever reads the comments that are posted here. I sometimes hope that they do, because there exchanges of views that could help football.

    What made me think about this was that I recently came across a webpage where a petition against the Southern Expansion A-League bid was being mounted.

    The views expressed in the petition reflected some of the discussions we have had on The Roar since the idea of a combined southern Sydney/Wollongong A-league bid was first mooted a couple of years ago.

    The difference is that here are some activists who are wanting to do something more than air their opinion. This petition will be delivered to Football Federation Australia.

    Clearly, the petitioners are arguing mainly from the Wollongong point of view, but there is also reference to how this might impact Sydney FC.

    Liam Clark started this petition and now has 408 supporters. The question I am curious about is how many supporters would be needed to get the attention of the FFA.

    I suspect that you would actually need thousands of people supporting an idea before you are listened to. And that type of movement requires real organisation.

    Here is the explanation given for the petition:

    This petition exists to discourage the FFA from approving a combined St George, Sutherland Shire and Illawarra A-League franchise. Despite having the backing of Les Murray, Craig Foster and Chinese investors, the bid is seriously misguided for the following reasons:

    – Geographical and cultural disconnect between Southern Sydney and Wollongong would likely see poor support from the Illawarra region. Many Illawarra locals have consistently made it clear on social media that they will only support a standalone Wollongong team. The Wanderers have exemplified the success that comes with representing a specific region and having a clear identity – it would be a mistaken decision to go the other way.

    – The farcical nature of ground-sharing across the 3 regions is demonstrated by the fact that 55km separates WIN Stadium from Jubilee Oval, as opposed to 23km separating Moore Park and Parramatta Stadium – the homes of two different clubs.

    – 25% of Sydney FC’s member base live south of Mascot, and 40% of junior members (2015 data). A new team would deeply cut into their support and already diminished catchment area (post-WSW). It is important to note that Jubilee Oval (St George region) is only a short 12km from Moore Park.

    – Adding a third Sydney team creates 6 more derby fixtures each season, yet the potential success of these manufactured ‘derbies’ is questionable. The current Sydney Derby has been so successful because it captured a real and pre-existing social and cultural dynamic in Sydney.

    – Additionally, the Wanderers were established to represent a specific area and have a clear identity – something a combined Southern team would not have. Again, despite the combined St George, Sutherland Shire, Illawarra region boasting a population of nearly 1 million, this raw number does not automatically convert to passionate fans, especially when there is such a physical and cultural separation across that population. Despite having a smaller population on its own, the Illawarra region already boasts a historically successful club in the Wollongong Wolves – a club that has a pre-existing and visible connection to the area and fans. Their standalone bid should be seriously considered and favoured over the combined regional one.

    To conclude, and with all respect to Les Murray and Craig Foster, the Southern Expansion bid is not the best thing since sliced bread. In fact, it would be detrimental to a pre-existing club in Sydney FC and stifle any chance a standalone Wollongong team has of joining an expanded competition. Expansion is vital to the future progression of the A-League, but it must be done right. Without any clear fan engagement conducted by the FFA, this petition hopes to demonstrate the sentiment of the public and encourage the future path taken by the FFA.

    These are valid views and we would all hope that FFA is mindful of this.

    Of course, there are people who have a completely different point of view about the Southern Expansion bid. There have been a number of meetings with clubs in the area that are reported to be positive.

    There have also been good reactions to announcements about making their academy programs free for selected players.

    The Southern Expansion bid has also recently conducted a survey of people in the area. It would be interesting to see if they make their survey results public to see what level of support they are attracting.

    It may be that there is a case for Southern Expansion. But there are also rumblings about other bids as well.

    The sentiments expressed in the Southern Expansion petition are also being heard in other cities as there a number of bids coming from cities that already have A-League clubs eg Brisbane (Brisbane City vs Brisbane Strikers and Ipswich), Melbourne (South East vs SMFC vs Geelong). Each of these debates relate to issues of existing support bases and who misses out if new clubs are approved.

    The expansion debate is very important, so I understand why people have strong views.

    I have expressed my opinion on The Roar about where I think the next A-League team should be located. I am not going to repeat that here because this article is not just about A-League expansion.

    The question is how does the football community explain to decision makers such as the FFA what we really want on important issues. Is it through online forums, news media, public meetings, or even a petition?